The Basics of Wig Styling

by PatentRenoSmirk (“The Basics of Wig Styling -The Handout-“)

[Additional information by Costume Club at the UW – “Tools of the Trade”]

The Three Phases of Wig Styling

  1. Research, selection, purchase
  2. Styling and cutting
  3. Care and maintenance

1. Research, selection, purchase

Before you start…

  • It’s all about having fun!
  • Don’t stress
  • The wig won’t hurt you, and you can’t hurt it
  • Don’t get discouraged
  • Wigs are NOT hair, so don’t treat them as such

Types of Wig Fibers

  • Kanekalon:
    • Japanese silky hair fiber
    • Lays and looks natural
    • Easy to wash and holds its shape
    • Shape can be changed with steam
  • Toyokalon:
    • Close cousin of Kanekalon and shares similar properties
    • Tangles less but doesn’t look as natural
  • Elura:
    • Newer hair fiber
    • Silkier and shinier than Kanekalon
    • Can withstand more heat than Kanekalon (heat resistant)
    • Bounces back to its original shape after washing
  • Hiperlon:
    • High quality heat resistant fiber
    • Not as shiny or soft as Kanekalon
    • Takes well to dies, products, and styling
  • Spun Plastic:
    • Usually what you get with cheap Halloween wigs
    • Doesn’t look natural, silky, or smooth
    • Can’t take any heat whatsoever
    • Only one or two wearings from it
    • Can’t wash and/or reuse
    • Pros: cheap and sticks up naturally so it can be good for spikes
  • Human hair
    • Best fiber to use if you can afford it
    • Looks and lays natural
    • Easy to style and can be treated like real hair
    • It’s really, really expensive
    • Not practical for most cosplay purposes

Places to Purchase Wigs

Tools of the Trade

  • Scissors – Used to cut straight lines
  • Razor – Most used tool, gives more natural texture and is essential for nice spikes
  • Thinning Shears – Sort of like the razor but not nearly as good, nice for thinning but leaves noticeable lines
  • Clips – Second most used tool, used to separate and hold fibers back, have many and lots of varying sizes
  • Combs – Used to brush fibers and keep wigs looking nice
  • Hair Dryer – Used to help speed drying process, use only on low settings and hold away from fibers
  • Steamer – Used to straighten wigs and give minor changes to how hair lays
  • Hair spray – Gives nice, even, and sturdy hold, depending on amount used you can make the style.
  • UNKNOWN – Gives nice, even, and sturdy hold, not as rigid as hair spray, can work with more natural styles and can freely bounce, not good over large surface areas as a main hold
  • Pomade – Gives nice, shiny, natural hold, weak compared to hair glue but looks really natural, moves naturally and gives good shape without looking coated in product, not good for spikes but great for natural looking styles
  • Fabric glue – Used when all else fails, won’t wash out and once it dries it can make a good sealant for the ends of spikes, once it sets there’s no moving it

2. Styling and cutting

How to Dye a Wig

More like tinting rather than dyeing; you can’t make the color of a wig lighter. This is a very long and time consuming process to do correctly.

  1. Collect a spray bottle, acrylic ink, and high strength rubbing alcohol. Make sure it’s acrylic ink, otherwise it won’t work. Good brands to use are Speedball and FW.
  2. In a cup mix together the acrylic ink and the rubbing alcohol. A good guideline to follow is 1/2 cup alcohol to about 10 drops of ink. You don’t have to follow this however. Use your eye and mix till you get the desired color. Some shades require a lot more ink than others.
  3. Set up your wig in an area that is ok to get messy and take as many precautions as possible to prevent staining. This stuff will stain and there is a good chance it won’t come out. I suggest doing this outside on a tarp.
  4. Once your wig is set up, turn your wig upside down and spray the entire bottom layer, making sure to gently comb through it. Once the bottom is covered, flip the wig over and repeat the process, going through weft layer by weft layer. Make sure to cover all the fibers but not over saturate.
  5. Let the wig dry fully. You can use a blow dryer to help speed this up.
  6. Once the wig is dry, rinse, rinse, rinse! Rinse until the water fully runs clear. This could take a while. You might have to let the wig dry, brush it out, then rinse again if you use lots of ink. This will help prevent the color rubbing off on clothing and your skin so it’s well worth the time you put into it.

How to Curl a Wig
Before you start, check to see if your wig is heat resistant; you can use a curling iron if it is. Otherwise, follow the instructions below, or your wig could melt!

  1. Select a section of fibers to be curled.
  2. Wrap the fibers around a rod of some sort. The bigger the rod, the bigger the curls.
  3. Dip the rod into hot water between 158 to 178 degrees Fahrenheit, making sure not to exceed 185 degrees. Allow fiber to stay in the water for 15 seconds.
  4. Remove and gently towel dry and allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Remove rod and style as you want. The curls will come out after a few washings or if you straighten them.

How to Straighten a Wig
Before you start, check to see if your wig is heat resistant; if so you can use a flat iron instead.

  1. Warm up the steamer.
  2. Once the steamer is ready, select a section of fibers to straighten and spray with the hot steam, making sure not to get too close. While you steam pull at the curls to make the fibers straight.
  3. Keep adding steam, working your way around the wig. This could take a while and might take a few passes so just keep at it until the curls are gone.

3. Care and maintenance

How to Put on a Wig

  1. Wigs must be put on from front to back. This helps keep the wig in order, is much easier, and keeps your hair and wig cap in place.(Editor’s note – you can also put wigs on back to front so long as the hair is kept out of the way)
  2. With your wig cap in place, take the front of your wig and hold it to your forehead.
  3. With your other hand, gently place the wig over your head, slowly sliding it back until the hairline of the wig matches your own.
  4. Once the wig is on your head look in the mirror to ensure it is sitting correctly and evenly.
  5. After the wig is where you want it, pin it to your head. Two on the upper scalp, and one in front of each ear. Make sure to have the wig, the wig cap, and your hair in the pin.
  6. Do up the elastic strap in the back.

If you have a lot of hair, the best way to have it fit under a wig is to french braid it. However, instead of doing a normal french braid (center strand goes over outer strands) it’s better to do a reverse french braid (center strand goes under out strands) because it pulls the hair closer to your head. Then put the wig cap over the french braids. You may have to do two french braids, one on each side of your head to capture all of your hair.

How to Wash a Wig

  1. You will need a nice, not cheap, gentle shampoo, just shampoo, not combined conditioner. Don’t use Suave! The better shampoo you use, the better results you will get.
  2. You will also, before you start, need to mix up a conditioning solution of 1 part conditioner and 2 parts fabric softener.
  3. With supplies ready and wig brushed out, wet the wig with mildly warm water, not hot. Apply a small, very small, amount of shampoo to the wig and work around, making sure to get the netting as well. This won’t be like washing your hair so don’t expect a lot of suds.
  4. Rinse the shampoo out of the wig completely. There should be no more suds or soap residue left over.
  5. Apply a small amount of the conditioning solution to the wig. Work it into the fibers and comb through with your fingers if possible. Do not over saturate.
  6. Fill the sink with mildly warm water, just enough to cover the wig. Place the wig in the water and swirl around. Let it sit for ten minutes.
  7. When the ten minutes are up, rinse completely, making sure not to leave behind any residue.
  8. Place on a wig head and let dry completely.
  9. Once completely dry, brush and style as desired. Don’t brush when wet.

How to Detangle a Wig

  1. With a big tooth comb, start at the bottom of the wig and work your way up. This helps prevent your knots from becoming work. Always work bottom to top.
  2. Try to be as gentle as possible. Try to avoid pulling on the netting. If need be, hold the fibers steady in your hand, then brush.
  3. The most important thing is patience.
  4. When you need extra help you can also use a hand made detangling solution of 1 part water to 1 part fabric softener. (Editor’s note – wig detangler solutions can be purchased from some stores) Put in a spray bottle and lightly mist, then comb through.
  5. The best way to avoid tangles is with prevention. Regular brushing and proper storage are the best tools you can use.

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